Portland will spend at least $30,000 helping a few dozen homeless people leave town this year — offering bus fare, plus services, to volunteers who’ve lined up another place to live.
City Council approved the pilot program Wednesday morning, part of a 4-0 vote on a $2.75 million investment in Mayor Charlie Hales’ nearly six-month-old housing emergency. Housing Commissioner Dan Saltzman was absent.
The largest share, $1 million, will help the Portland Housing Bureau grow an assistance program that helps keep people who’ve suddenly struggled to pay rent from losing their apartments and falling into homelessness.
The council also approved hundreds of thousands of dollars to help the Office of Management and Finance manage city-sanctioned campsites for homeless Portlanders, a daytime storage program and new emergency shelters that have already served hundreds of people months after opening.
That spending, playing out while Hales crafts his last city budget this spring, will draws from two newly arrived sources of cash: a legal settlement with online travel companies on hotel taxes and a payment from related to the development of downtown’s Pioneer Place mall.
Though among the smallest allocations approved Wednesday, the bus fare program has attracted significant notice.
Called Homeward Bound, it’s similar to programs offered in other cities and also locally among domestic violence providers. Portland’s effort is directly inspired by a program with the same name in San Francisco, said Kurt Creager, the housing bureau’s director.
Likely participants will include people who might like to leave Portland — to live with family or friends, or land a job — but currently have no means of moving. Participants will have to prove they’ve locked down a secure place to live. They’ll also need to be medically fit for bus travel, although air fare might be possible in limited cases.
Officials have cautioned that it’s more than a means of sending people to some other city, with one-way tickets, their ultimate destination unknown. Creager said participants will be assigned case managers who will verify any job or housing offers.
“We don’t want to export the problem to another community,” he said. “We’re trying to end homelessness. We’re not trying to move homelessness.”
Portland and Multnomah County officials working together on homelessness issues, part of a regional program called A Home for Everyone, had expected to seek funding for a similar pilot program later this year.
The pilot program, working alongside local nonprofits, is expected to help about 75 people through June. Officials hope to have it running by April.
“That’s our goal,” Creager said.
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